Who we’re speaking to can make a significant difference in understanding the intended meaning of our words.
The three successive parables about the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Lost Son come into much clearer focus when you consider their audience. Jesus was not primarily teaching His disciples, but rather was challenging the Pharisees.
“And all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him, to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the Scribes were murmuring, saying, ‘This one receives sinners, and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2
When Jesus spoke of the 99 sheep who did not go astray, He was playing into the Pharisees belief in their own righteousness. They considered themselves the sheep of Israel. The “one who goes astray” was clearly the tax collectors and sinners, at least in their minds, even though Jesus knew they’re more like the one that the ninety-nine.
It’s in His story of the Prodigal Son that Jesus teaching got a little more direct. Of course, the Scribes and Pharisees saw the sinners as the Prodigal, squandering everything on wild living. But they no doubt identified with the attitude of the older brother. He had every right to be angry, they surmise. Yet like him, they are…
Self-righteous. Judgmental. Unforgiving.
They had to feel exposed and infuriated by Jesus’ story. But He wasn’t finished.
The Pharisees loved money. They believed wealth was a sign of God’s favor. Jesus told them the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, a pitiful beggar.
Lazarus died and went to heaven. Could the poor go to heaven? The Pharisees had their doubts.
The Rich Man died and went to hell. Could the rich go to hell? The Pharisees had their doubts.
The Rich Man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers about the torment of hell. The Rich Man said, “if anyone from the dead goes to them, they will repent!”
Jesus then closed with this, “If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one would rise from the dead.”
Think about it. Jesus already raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. That was not enough to convince them. In fact, they later plotted to kill Lazarus to shut down this story.
It wouldn’t be long before they crucified Jesus, only to have Him rise from the dead too. And that wouldn’t convince them either.
Some, in their stubbornness and hardness of heart, will never be convinced. Even if Jesus were standing right in front of them. Even if they witnessed His death… and then saw Him alive again…
In that case, it takes more faith NOT to believe than it does to believe. Some are determined to never believe. They’re blind to the truth that’s staring them in the face.
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